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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 5, 2010

Olympics: Putin chides sports officials over Vancouver Games flop

Associated Press Writer

MOSCOW Prime Minister Vladimir Putin took Russian sports officials to task on Friday over the nation's dismal showing at the Vancouver Games despite what he described as generous state funding.

Putin told a government meeting that Russian sports federations must have broader power and specific responsibilities, more sports facilities need to be built, and wages of coaches must be increased to prevent a similar humiliation when Russia hosts the 2014 Games in Sochi.

"I already hear some say that ... it's not the most important thing to be among the leaders, the most important thing is to make a good showing," Putin said with a wry smile. "I must tell you it's not so. You go into the games not just to sweat, but to win."

The Russian team brought home just 15 medals from Vancouver, putting it 11th in the medals count. There were only three golds, the nation's worst Olympic performance ever.

Putin, chairing a meeting to analyze the Olympic flop, said the government spent about $117 million in three years to prepare for the Vancouver Games a sum he claimed was comparable to that spent by the nations that won the most medals.

"I have got an impression that the more money we spend, the more modest the results are," he said, adding that the figure was five times the amount Russia had spent on preparations for the 2006 Winter Games in Torino.

Putin's remarks follow President Dmitry Medvedev's call for sports officials to step down or face dismissal. Russian Olympic Committee chief Leonid Tyagachev resigned on Thursday and Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko went on state television to repent, bemoaning the nation's aging sports infrastructure and the loss of the national coaching school.

Putin acknowledged that the wear and tear of Soviet-era sports facilities and emigration of some of the nation's top athletes and coaches had played a role in the poor showing. But he emphasized that the government's spending on sport should have brought a better result.

"Maybe the money we invested wasn't put where it should have been put, but somewhere else, where those who had it wanted it to go?" Putin said.

In a series of interviews, Olympic figure skating champion Irina Rodnina who won three gold medals for the Soviet Union before moving to the United States in 1990 to work as a coach decried the laziness and cronyism of Russia's sports managers, who are often accused of favoring their friends or those with money.

Putin said the entire system of training athletes must be changed. He said the work of sports federations must become more transparent and they must produce step-by-step plans. He also urged stronger incentives for promising athletes and better pay for coaches.

"We must take the best from the Soviet system of training athletes and also use modern international experience," Putin said.

In nine Winter Olympics from 1956 to 1988, the Soviet Union never finished outside the top two in the medal standings. Only twice it did not finish on top.

"Sochi is our national project, and we will pay the maximum attention to that," Putin said. "Millions of fans are waiting for our team to become the winner. In any case, it must be among the leaders in Sochi in 2014."